Massive fire at Salinas food processing plant contained, evacuations lifted

SALINAS, Calif. (KGO) -- A massive fire at the Taylor Farms Processing Facility in Salinas that began late Wednesday night and prompted evacuations continued to smolder into Thursday afternoon.

Evacuation orders and shelter-in-place orders were lifted just after 1 p.m. Thursday, nearly 17 hours later.

The Salinas Fire Department says that 85 to 90 percent of the 225,000 square foot building is a total loss.

Taylor Farms is a major agriculture company that brings many of the salad kits seen in grocery stores and is a major employer.

Making things even more dangerous during the fire were the 35,000 gallons of ammonia the facility had, an explosive chemical that forced even fire crews to evacuate the scene.

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"With that amount of 35,000 gallons of ammonia, that could have been devastating to this community," Salinas Fire chief Michele Vaugan said. "We're talking big explosion, with major damage throughout the community, not just Taylor Farms."

Sean McCluskey owns Trajectory EV, a business just down the road from the facility.

He and his workers were evacuated and were some of the first to witness the fire.

"You (could) see the flames and the smoke and everything coming straight up from Taylor Farms," McCluskey said.

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Most of the surrounding area is made up of other businesses, which were evacuated. Residential areas downwind of the fire were told to shelter in place and schools canceled classes because of the toxic smoke caused by the ammonia.

The plant was closed for the season with many workers set to come from Yuma, Arizona on Monday.

No produce or people were inside but Taylor Farms says leaders have been in meetings all day to address the thousands of employees impacted.

"We are working internally, Bruce Taylor, has been meeting with the vice presidents of the different divisions to make sure that any people that are suffering any hardships, primarily the workers that are in Yuma making their way here just making sure that we take care of everybody, work through the problem," Darin Salden from Taylor Farms said.

The business is also faced with the challenge of how to process the food that eventually comes to our tables.

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"We do have other plants in the immediate area," Salden said. "We are working any option available to us to continue our products to our customers and make sure that we keep everything going."

Now with the imminent threat gone, the main concern for Sean McCluskey and the rest of this community, so driven by AG, is about the jobs.

"The owners have insurance, the shareholders have insurance," he said, "But we don't have a way to protect people's jobs, their livelihoods."

Fire crews, hazmat and the Environmental Protection Agency stayed on the scene.

An official cause of this fire is being investigated but the fire department says there are indications that a welding project sparked a fire in a wall.

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